Yellowjackets

Politics

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    8
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A nearly complete departure from smooth jazz, Politics is arguably the Yellowjackets' strongest effort to date. True, there is the pure pop of the single "Local Hero" (which features a rhythm section more rock than jazz) and the accessible "Evening Dance" to be considered, but they're the exceptions rather than the rule. Like Four Corners before it, Politics engages in exotic, dreamy textures, the new wrinkle here being the joining of Russell Ferrante's keyboards and Marc Russo's saxophones to create intoxicating, complex themes (the opening pair of "Oz" and "Tortoise & the Hare" are the best examples of this technique). The disc also finds the Yellowjackets incorporating elements of post-bop ("Downtown," "Foreign Correspondent") and more traditional jazz ("Helix," which affords a rare opportunity to compare Ferrante's piano technique to those of artists like Chick Corea and Bill Evans). The biggest difference in sound comes from Russo, who downplays his typically smooth soloing for more cerebral fare. Jimmy Haslip's bass has grown steadily more subtle over time, though he does showcase his fretless skills on "Galileo (For Jaco)" and provides a perfect complement to Russo's sax on the romantic "Avance." The rhythms of William Kennedy have moved higher in the mix, which partially accounts for Haslip's diminished presence, with guest Alex Acuña again providing occasional percussion. It's a pleasure to hear the Yellowjackets move beyond smooth jazz to bring their talents to bear on more substantive music. Despite the variety of styles -- from giddy, Ponty-like patterns to thoughtful, unfolding ballads -- the Yellowjackets treat every song with care and craftsmanship. The band returned to self-producing after this, so some of the softness in tone that co-producer David Hentschel brought to the sessions was lost on The Spin. Of the four albums that the band made for MCA, Politics is the one to own.

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